The Critical Dystopia
If this were a map
it would be the map of the last age of her life,
not a map of choices but a map of variations
on the one great choice. It would be the map by which
she could see the end of touristic choices,
of distances blued and purpled by romance,
by which she would recognize that poetry
isn't revolution but a way of knowing
why it must come.
-- ADRIENNE RICH, FROM "DREAMWOOD"
In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan retrieved the utopian figure of the "city on the hill" from colonial history to signify the society of harmony and enterprise that his new administration promised to establish. A decade later, in a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in October 1990, George Bush deployed the utopian figure of the millennium as he called for a new world order of peace and prosperity that would move beyond the era of the Cold War.
And yet in the years between the two presidential gestures, neither humanity nor the environment benefited from their apparently utopian promises. Indeed, the situation became increasingly dystopian as the celebration of Utopia became a mark of triumph for Anti-Utopia. Massive upward redistribution of income became the norm; working people steadily lost the measures of social wealth and rights that they had won through years of struggle; homelessness and the deprivations of un- and underemployment became the common lot of increasing numbers of people; violent attacks on those with little or no social power multiplied and intensified (with harassment, battering, and rape of women and similar psy-